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Protecting our Own


By David Kilgour
Chair of the Latin America and Carribean policy working group
The Canadian International Council, Ottawa.

The Mark, August 17, 2009

Co-written by Julian Bauer.

The basic facts surrounding the three-month ordeal of Somalia-born Canadian Suad H. Mohamudís ordeal in Kenya are now well known. The mother of a 12-year-old boy was refused boarding for a flight home and remained stranded in a foreign country accused of being an impostor. While family, friends, and human rights organizations anxiously fought for her eventual reunion with her family in Toronto, the Canadian High Commission in Kenya failed to honour its obligation to her as a Canadian citizen, one of our own.

Those who have worked tirelessly to secure her return, including Professor Julian Bauer, a leading partner of the NGO ECOTERRA and the co-writer of this piece, report instead a disturbing readiness on the part of the High Commission to facilitate a Kenyan conviction of Ms. Mohamudís presumed guilt.

Her troubles started when a Kenyan immigration officer decided that the photo in her four-year-old passport was of someone else. "The lips don't look the same," he said. She was detained, and then arrested and sent to languish for eight days inside the notorious Langata women's prison.

The High Commission hastily concurred with the Kenyan opinion, voided her passport, and turned her over to Kenyan prosecutors. That her passport matched all her other numerous IDs, including a Canadian citizenship card, an Ontario driverís license, credit card and medical insurance card did not matter to Canadian officials until a DNA test proved her case conclusively.

In a May 28 letter to Kenyan authorities, the High Commission indicated it was turning over Mohamud's passport to allow the Kenyan government to initiate a prosecution, insisting that she was an impostor.

In the ensuing weeks, as Mohamud's family and friends frantically sought her release from Kenya, with the help of ECOTERRA, an international human rights organization, the High Commission made no attempt at contacting her, let alone providing support, as it is obligated to do by law.

According to ECOTERRA and Bauer, the only communication from the high Commission in more than three months was an arrogant dismissal of their assistance to Mohamud. Again the fact that ECOTERRA had written permission from Mohamud, under the provisions of the Canadian Privacy Act, to represent her interests did not matter. "Your assistance is not required." Period.

Despite Mohamud's demands and pleas by the NGO in recent days Ė when a DNA test clearly proved that Mohamud was indeed a Canadian Ė she was still sent outside the High Commission compound in Nairobi without a protection letter or other document indicating that she was in Kenya legally.

Only on August 14, when Kenya dropped the charges against her, did Mohamud receive Canadian emergency travel documents. The letter from the Canadian High Commission sounded less than welcoming. "It is the decision of the Government of Canada to allow Suaad (sic) Haji Mohamud entry to Canada."

To his credit, Prime Minister Harper, in his remarks, indicated that his aim was to get Mohamud "home," the first time in three months that a Canadian official acknowledged her Canadian citizenship.

Mohamud touched ground again in Canada and was re-united with her son late on August 15. While she flew to safety, the phone at the emergency desk of the ECOTERRA in Nairobi was ringing once again; this time the caller wanted assistance to secure the safety and return of Abdihakim Mohamed, an autistic Canadian stuck in the bureaucratic maze of Canada and forgotten in Kenya.

The troubling question is raised again about whether Canadians can safely travel abroad with the assurance that their government will protect them.

While Harper promised a "full accounting" of the circumstances of Mohamud's ordeal, a full public investigation should be called and those responsible for this disturbing incident should be held accountable. Failure to do so would mean failure in upholding Canada's cornerstones: the rule of law and good governance.

It is also necessary to establish transparent rules and mechanisms to ensure that Canadians can indeed count on their government's assistance and protection when they travel overseas.

Canadians deserve no less!

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